Disintermediation, Radiohead and Newtonian Physics

Disintermediation – one of those wonderful baggy words that only yields up any meaning after being dismembered into constituent parts, if at all. Or perhaps a word like a string of railway carriages shuttling along clanking and rattling over the rail bed.

The word is most usually applied in the field of marketing and economics where it refers to the cutting out of intermediaries in a supply chain: “cutting out the middleman”. Going on-line to buy books, for example, rather than going to a bookstore and discussing possible purchases with a bookseller.

The British band Radiohead provide another example. They are now offering their latest album on-line directly to fans, severing ties with its music label and allowing those fans to set the price. Another band Nine Inch Nails has declared itself a free agent. Trent Reznor of NIN puts it this way: “I have been under recording contracts for 18 years and have watched the business radically mutate from one thing to something inherently very different and it gives me great pleasure to be able to finally have a direct relationship with the audience as I see fit and appropriate.” Other music artists are said to be following suit.

Those are contemporary examples but this is not a new process. Before the bible was translated into vernacular languages the priest, or those who read Latin, were the intermediators. The translators and then the printing presses were engaged in the process of disintermediation.

So – with so much easy access to information, with distance learning and with universities such as M.I.T. * and others putting their coursework and lectures on line what is the role of the teacher and the school. Have teachers lost their essential role as intermediaries? And if so – what is their role now?
*Professor Walter Lewin’s legendary physics lectures are now hits on UTunes. This is Professor Lewin at work demonstrating Newtonian physics: the period of a pendulum swing is independent of the mass hanging from the pendulum. This demonstration can be viewed on the video of Lecture 10.
Since this post was first published  M.I.T. has severed its ties with Professor Lewin:  https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2015/01/23/complainant-unprecedented-walter-lewin-sexual-harassment-case-comes-forward

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